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The SD-WAN business case: sometimes ‘who’ you know is as important as ‘what’

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Working with multinationals on their business case for SD-WAN, we’ve developed an understanding of real benefits and challenges.

Here are some of the main lessons we’ve learnt along the way.

Addressing the bandwidth explosion

Often the discussion around benefits centres on the potential cost savings of a hybrid WAN with internet connectivity in place of MPLS. For the majority of our customers though, the opportunity is not to reduce their overall cost. Rather it’s about using this move as an enabler for delivering greater bandwidth to meet their digital transformation needs without spending a fortune. To make a compelling business case you need to take a more sophisticated approach than just doing the same network more cheaply.

The key metric is not cost-reduction

The key metric is not overall cost-reduction, it’s the reduction in cost per megabit – in other words it’s proving you can deliver a more cost-efficient network that is fit for the future.

A hybrid network can save money but savings vary by region and country

In the US, the price differential between MPLS and internet circuits remains high; many SD-WAN vendors focus on this without recognising there is a different profile elsewhere. As a global provider of connectivity services we deal with network vendors and pricing around the world. So, we understand how variable the pricing is between countries. In Europe, for example, the savings are smaller by switching from MPLS to business grade internet.

We have learnt that the assumption that huge savings will be uniformly achieved across the globe is misplaced. To really understand the cost impact of moving to a hybrid network, it’s important to define precisely what kind and size of underlay meets the needs of the business in each location; and the technology solutions required to deliver against those business needs globally. Also the definition required is not just from an underlay infrastructure point of view, but also in terms of what else will be required to enable the change (e.g. security).

Service and support model benefits

There’s an increasing interest in the benefits that flow from the way SD-WAN can transform the network service management processes; for example reducing process costs through automation and improving visibility when troubleshooting issues. Our experience suggests that actually these service model benefits may well be greater than the impact on network costs and may have greater strategic impact. Enterprises need to factor-in ‘soft savings’ such as reduced tickets to the internal IT help-desks.

The business benefits of SD-WAN can include:

Optimising resources

Redeployment of field engineering resources required through zero-touch deployment and central diagnostics.

Trouble shooting

Application trouble shooting and remediation – improved visibility meaning quicker and more effective incident resolution.

Improved visibility

Processes for configuration or optimising routing can be much improved by the application visibility and control tools available from SD-WAN solutions.

Better informed decisions

Improved visibility and management information means you can make better informed decisions on the management of the network. It can also reduce the typical management overhead created by the “network being blamed for everything”.

The stakeholder landscape is key to success

Getting all of the right people around the table is critical to your future network strategy. The Head of Networks naturally has a focus on the cost of the network. But when you speak to the CIO they are focussed on establishing an agile IT model and enabling their business to realise the benefits of digital transformation. For example, enabling cloud-bursting through flexible bandwidth may be key to a business process that delivers significant innovation and differentiation, thereby delivering an ROI on any network investment.

When you consider this broader perspective, the business case for a future network, incorporating SD-WAN, really starts to fly. By contrast, a business case focussed only on the impact to the costs of the network department will be far less compelling.

It’s not what you know, but who you know

The business case needs a joined-up approach with key stakeholders involved, not just the network department. It needs to be business-focussed and aligned to the broader ICT strategy. Too often we’ve observed a technology-focussed approach to future networks with network teams looking at SD-WAN and the network roadmap in isolation. Is it any surprise that when it comes to the time the business is asked to fund their decisions that the investment isn’t approved?

So, while what you know remains important; our view is that it is critical that the wider community is engaged as early as possible and they are consulted on what they need from a future network to support their business priorities.

We’ve learnt these lessons working with global enterprises on their business cases with SD-WAN. Discover how we can help you with your future networking strategy. Evaluate the technologies that deliver you the best business outcomes. Recommend to your business an innovative IT model for the future.

Related reading

1.     Discover what network trends to look out for in 2019 with Ovum’s latest report covering SD-WAN, NFV, hybrid networking and cloud connectivity services.

2.     Evaluate your future network options with our eGuide: Build the infrastructure your business needs to thrive.

3.     Get your copy of Gartner’s 2018 report: Fact or Fiction: Does SD-WAN Really Save You Money? - to help you to recommend your future network implementation to your business.

Steve Coakley

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